While Cincinnati went unbeaten over the first six weeks of the season, not much has gone its way since.
Things aren't likely to get any easier for coach Mick Cronin's team with a visit to Rutgers in store.The No. 21 Bearcats hope to avoid a third straight loss Saturday night against the Scarlet Knights, who try to extend their home winning streak to eight for the first time in nine seasons.Cincinnati (13-3, 1-2 Big East) looked every bit like one of the country's top teams after opening 12-0, but it's gone on to lose three of four.The Bearcats, whose lone win over that stretch came 70-61 at then-No. 24 Pittsburgh on Dec. 31, suffered one-point defeats to New Mexico and St. John's before falling 66-60 to No. 17 Notre Dame on Monday.Leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick had 15 points and was the only player to finish in double figures against the Irish, who shot 50.0 percent from the field -- 9 for 16 from 3-point range."It's the Big East now," Kilpatrick said. "We're in a league where everyone on (the other team's) roster can play. That's something we've really got to figure out now. It's not like it's December anymore. It's January and this is the meat of our schedule and we've really got to get that in our minds."The Bearcats are 12-4 all-time against the Scarlet Knights (11-3, 2-1) and had strung together five straight victories in this series before coming up short 61-54 on the road last Jan. 28. Kilpatrick managed just 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting while Eli Carter scored 17 for Rutgers.Carter has averaged 19.3 points during the home winning streak for the Scarlet Knights, who haven't won eight in a row on their own court since Jan. 10-Feb. 25, 2004.After knocking off then-No. 24 Pittsburgh 67-62 behind 23 points from Carter last Saturday, Rutgers pulled out a 58-56 road win over the Red Storm on Wednesday. Carter only had eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, but seniors Dane Miller and Austin Johnson scored a combined 21."It's nice to have seniors. It's nice to have guys who have been through the wars and respond the right way," coach Mike Rice said. "Seniors stepped up. They did a tremendous job, along with the other guys. Why not us? I keep on telling our guys that. Hang in there and good things are going to happen."The Scarlet Knights are looking to open 3-1 in Big East play for the first time since joining the league in 1995-96."I think it definitely is going to build great momentum for us," Johnson said of Wednesday's win. "We know from past experience once you get on the wrong side of the floor and you accumulate a bunch of losses in the Big East, it is hard to build your way back up, so this is huge for us. We are doing something that has not been done in such a long time."Rutgers is 5-30 in its past 35 games against ranked opponents, but four of those wins have come in its last six home matchups versus Top 25 teams.